Written by Lauryn Smith
I normally do not go for contemporary romance or chick lit like Beth Harbison’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Yet here I am, sharing my review of Harbison’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” (Thanks to Macmillan Audio for the free audiobook!)
Harbison’s book is what I like to call a beach read. It is lighthearted, has some entertaining premises and is easy to grasp, but it is not life-altering, mind-boggling or gush-worthy. “If I could Turn Back Time” is not bad—it is just not great.
Harbison tells the story of career savvy Ramie Phillips, a soon-to-be 38-year old who in a moment of recklessness knocks her head and falls unconscious, only to wake up in her childhood home in Maryland as her 17-year-old self. Thrust back in time, the businesswoman is forced to relive her past, which gives her the opportunity to contemplate the choices she has made and to reconsider what she truly desires. Writing from Ramie’s perspective, Harbison illustrates what it is like for middle-aged women to doubt their decisions and to endlessly wonder what their lives would be like under different circumstances. She investigates modern women's emotions, specifically those of women who prioritize growing their careers over finding love and establishing families.
Time travel and out-of-body experiences are well established themes in the realm of art and entertainment. Unfortunately, “If I Could Turn Back Time" does not break the mold. The storyline is like the female version of 17 Again or Big but with a vibe similar to 13 Going on 30. To an extent, "If I could Turn Back Time" is differentiated through characterization. The protagonist is distinguished as an overworked, well-to-do professional, though at times she can be a little... dull. Given the premise of the narrative, one might expect more excitement, particularly from the main character. Instead, Ramie and her story are languid, slowly chugging along.
Ramie never seems to fully accept that she is not partaking in a dream, merely observing and reflecting on her old life. Why isn’t she more inclined to be bold, to try to direct her life in a new and better direction? How does she remain so civil, even to the popular crowd that gives her grief? Harbison leaves readers speculating. She answers one question, though, namely why Ramie does not plead for her father to look after his health despite knowing his glum fate. Harbison presents the situation tastefully, artfully alluding to Ramie's complex viewpoint, in effect creating a sense of wholesome wistfulness (granted she also demonstrates crudity, explicitly detailing Ramie’s sex life).
At least Harbison is consistent with her characterization. Ramie is genuine. Her father, a good man with his vices. Her mother, caring and judicious. Her friends, generically animated. All are familiar personas, although that might be because similar guises are commonplace in modern fiction. (Read this book, then try to recall any fictional female character's best friend, for example. I am sure you will find more than one similarity between the counterparts.)
Ramie is not a wholly sympathetic character. Perhaps the most endearing thing about her is her appreciation of the litheness of her young body. On the whole, Ramie is rather tiresome. Thankfully, the story’s resolution does not involve much of her indecisiveness, which is otherwise predominant throughout the story. Even so, the book’s ending is slightly disappointing. It is standard, typical. And not in a good way. More like the so-overdone-it-is-burnt way. Spoiler: adult Ramie meets a handsome man, and she is content, complete.
Ramie's reliving of her past, which we learn coincides with a coma following her head injury, is essential for enabling her to move beyond the woman we meet in the novel’s opening chapter. Harbison does not give us a story in which the female lead is content with her independence, her success. Instead, she gives us one in which said female lead resorts to male companionship. Like I said earlier, overplayed.
“If I Could Turn Back Time” is not my new favorite book, but I did glean some insights, the most notable being that everything happens for a reason. A stale concept? Sure. But it is a platitude worth being reminded of. Perhaps Harbison wrote this book to help people come to terms with their choices, with where they are in life. She demonstrates that life is constantly evolving, that there will always be periods of joy and periods of sorrow, and there is always hope that things will work out in the end.
Honestly, I probably will not read this book again. Regardless, it is worth picking up if you are already a Harbison fan or if you are looking for an easy leisure read. Some books lead readers to daydream, and “If I Could Turn Back Time” is a great medium for that. Who doesn’t have things they would do differently if they could turn back time?
Title: If I could Turn Back Time
Author: Beth Harbison
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: July 28, 2015
Page count: 336
List price: $26.99
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